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Subtle Servanthood

One of the great concepts of Christian living is servanthood. “The greatest among you will be your servant.” (Matthew 23:11) It sounds good and noble but it has some rough implications. Servants respond to the initiative of their masters. Servants live for the good of other people. Servants make sacrifices that benefit others. I get reminded of the reality of being a servant whenever I read about the nation of Israel. God initiated the idea of a nation in direct relationship with Himself because He wanted to show the rest of the world how He applies His grace to people’s lives, how he upholds a standard of righteousness that leads to healthy living, and how He parents His children. He blessed the nation so other nations would see the advantage of knowing their Creator and humbly seeking Him. He disciplined the nation so other nations would realize they were accountable to a just God.
A great example is found in Jeremiah 7. The nation of Israel is in a season of apathy. They are going through the motions but they lack fervor, faithfulness, and moral fortitude. “Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place.” (v. 3) The implication is that Israel can either repent, be restored and remain in the land God has set apart for them or they are going to be sent into exile.
God sent Jeremiah to be a bold messenger of God’s justice and mercy because He would rather have a kind and gentle relationship with them than discipline them as a Father. It is clear that God’s motivation is to create an example for others by the list of actions he wanted His people to take in verses 5-6:
• Deal with each other justly.
• Do not oppress the foreigner.
• [Do not oppress] the fatherless or the widow.
• Do not shed innocent blood in this place.
• Do not follow other gods to your own harm.
Three of the five directives involve influence on other people’s lives rather than meeting personal needs.
As I consider this, I cannot escape the conclusion that much of what I go through in life is not personal. I told God years ago that I wanted to be a servant of His. I didn’t know all that was involved in that commitment but I sincerely meant it. I have since learned that God takes His servants through many experiences so that later on we can relate to others who have been through similar experiences. Many of the hardships, corrections, challenges, and blessings are there as training. They are not in response to anything we have or haven’t done.
If you are like me, this is a tough principle to grasp. I easily get introspective and conclude the setbacks of my life must be based on a lack of talent, perspective or maturity. To be sure, I make my share of mistakes so sometimes I earn the right to be disciplined but it is often not the case. I intellectually accept that God is working to equip me to help others in the future so I have started praying differently. “Jesus, I am going to assume that challenges in my life are for the purpose of training and they are for the benefit of others. Give me the wisdom to recognize when the hard things in my life are truly about my behavior or attitude. Also, give me the willingness to have my life be an example to others of your justice and grace.”

Irritating Strengths

Personal growth is exciting to watch. Just this week, I encountered a couple who had a choice to either accept that change was necessary and develop new skills in their lives  or ignore the call to grow and continue in their familiar discomfort. They have been frustrated for a while because they seem to be in continual friction with one another. They love each other but their life together seems harder than it should be. He has a relaxed, easy-going, take it as comes approach to life which used to be really attractive to her because she felt calmer when she was around him. She has a sensitive, compassionate approach to life which he used to find attractive because he felt more important when he was around her. They thought it would be like this forever but they forgot to factor in responsibility.
Now that they have two kids and active careers, the characteristics they used to love about each other have become irritating. She cares so deeply for their kids and all that it takes to support their lives that she is constantly aware of tasks that need to be completed, goals that need to be pursued, and decisions that need to be made. He, on the other hand, is acutely aware of the constant stress in their lives and senses the need to take time off, look for ways to play, and put the focus on the people themselves rather than all the tasks that take time away from the relationships. They both feel so strongly about their perspective that their strengths have become a platform for conflict.
It is scenarios just like this that make or break our lives. If this couple continues in this trend, it is easy to see they will grow discouraged and discontent. In our modern world, they will probably even conclude that it isn’t working and may even end up seeing divorce as a solution. On the other hand, if they can see the truth that what they love about each other has now become an irritation, they can reignite the passion of their relationship. They can begin to rely on each other’s best traits once again and build a stronger life together than they could ever accomplish as individuals. It will take some work to recapture this perspective but once they find it, life will seem easier to them.
I got to thinking about this couple because I read Jeremiah 6:16 this morning. “This is what the LORD says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.’”
There is always a way to walk that provides rest for our souls. Not because life got easier but because we are cooperating with the way God made us and made life.
As we talked about the unique way God made this couple, they had one of those “aha” moments. She said, “My husband is so laid back that I stopped trusting him to make decisions. I just took over and started doing what needs to be done. In reaction, he has become more relaxed and almost passive.”
He said, “I saw her becoming so frantic about our life that I knew I had to back way off or we would both create so much stress that it would be harmful to our kids.”
Together they said, “We are going to start this week asking each other, ‘Who is the best person to make this decision?’ and then trust the other to lead in the areas of their strengths. We honestly believe that will be better for us than what we have been doing.”
It will be a challenge to establish this kind of decision-making as a habit but I think you can tell their life will feel a whole a lot easier if they can actually “walk in it.”